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Uncontainable Joy - A TransLutheran Story

lehmanUncontainable Joy.  For the last year and half, since I transitioned, I can only describe how I feel as having uncontainable joy.  I go about my daily life and am in such amazing awe of the gift that God has given me.  But, it wasn’t easy getting to this point.  My transgender journey began when I was 6 years old praying to God that He would make me a girl.  A pivotal faith moment for me in that journey happened 44 years later, in 2010.

In April 2010, I was driving to Albany NY from Philadelphia for the second straight day to attend the Empire Transgender Conference.  I had just come back from Albany the night before to attend my daughter’s high school academic awards banquet.  I left the house early and got back on the road to Albany, switching my attire from the suit and tie I wore the night before to a more appropriate skirt and blouse. 

While driving to Albany, I was listening to a narrative reading of the book of Luke on CD.   The narrator spoke about the amazing miracles that Jesus performed:  water into wine, feeding 5000, Lazarus, and Tabitha. I had been juggling my male family duties with my need to be female for several years, and it had become exhausting switching back and forth from male to female and hiding it from everyone. Listening to the CD during my drive, it triggered all my frustrations and I broke down crying and I began yelling at God that if Jesus could perform all these miracles, then why couldn’t He do something simple like let me live my life as a female. And when I say my life, I meant that I wanted to keep my marriage, my friends, my family, my career and my bowling team!

And so for the next 10 minutes driving, I yelled and cried and He spoke in a calm whisper.  After a while, I began to finally hear Him.  He was saying that He had a purpose and mission for me.   He said my mission was to become a woman and to be visible in the community so that it would help His mission to “Love one another as I have loved you”.   Of course, I had always wanted to be woman, but now God was saying to me that He wanted me to become a woman – and that it was my calling, my purpose – our mission together.  This now became very scary for me because there was the very real possibility that I would lose my entire world as I had known it.  I have so many transgender friends have lost everything.  Each week in church we hear how the disciples gave up everything to follow Jesus, but it’s a whole different thing when God asks you personally!    I realized through tear-filled eyes that I needed to give myself to God and pursue transition in earnest – to fulfill His mission.  I became convinced that if I just followed His lead, He would somehow make all this work out.

Over that summer, I started to follow a plan that I had developed during that car ride that day.  Simple steps like seeing a therapist, growing my hair out, getting out more in public to build confidence, laser hair removal, electrolysis, Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), and telling family and friends.  Over the next three years, with each step, God walked with me through fear, anxiety, pain, anguish, and joy.    

God then said it was time to transition and begin living my life as a woman.  My spouse, my pastor and I developed a plan to inform and educate our church family, which we had been part of for 25 years.  I also had plans to help my family, friends, work and bowling teams with the transition.  God sent many angels to me in the form of advocates and on June 9, 2013, I transitioned at church and was welcomed by the vast majority of the congregation.  With just a few minor bumps along the way, I have been wonderfully accepted by my family, friends, coworkers and teammates.

It’s been an amazingly difficult and wonderful journey during which my relationship with God has blossomed and grown.  My prayers that had begun so very long ago were answered.  My deepest desire has been given to me.   God, you are awesome.  Thank you for allowing me to experience uncontainable Joy.

Author Bio

Ms. Jennifer Lehman is a transgender woman who after a lifetime of hiding her true feelings executed a successful gender transition in 2013 to begin living her life as her authentic self. Ms. Lehman is a graduate of Gettysburg College where she majored in Physics, was in the marching band, on the bowling team and was chapter president of her fraternity.  She has been married for 30 years to her college sweetheart and has a son (26) and a daughter (22). Ms. Lehman is currently employed as an engineering manager developing innovative systems for the department of defense and she bowls competitively in two leagues.  Ms. Lehman is very active in her local Lutheran ELCA church where she teaches Sunday school.

We Matter! 2014 Trans* Day of Remembrance

JamieAnn MeyersJamieAnn Meyers
Transgender Representative
ReconcilingWorks Board of Directors

Next week, November 20, is the 16th marking of the International Day of Transgender Remembrance.  On that day we gather as trans* people and allies alike to memorialize those of our trans* community who have been murdered this past year because of the fear and hatred spawned by transphobia, racism, classism, sexism, cissexism, and transmisogyny.

We also honor the lives of all trans people who ended their own lives by suicide because they could just not bear to go on in the face of the emotional and/or physical violence brought down upon them because of transphobia.

We gather to acknowledge and name our grief in a public way. We gather to name aloud and in our hearts those who were killed or committed suicide, who lived their lives in the best way they could, whose lives were valuable, who were most vulnerable to the emotional and physical violence that is all too often wrought against us.

This past year 226 trans* people were murdered worldwide, according to Transgender Europe’s Transgender Murder Project. And these are just a fraction of the real number of deaths, because many go unreported, are not designated as hate crimes, or are not recognized as deaths of trans* people, because the media frequently reports birth-assigned names and sexes without honoring the true chosen names and gender identities of the victims. Some law enforcement officials may look upon many of these murders as deaths of disposable people, people whom society looks upon as freaks and outcasts, and the murders frequently go unsolved. This violence disproportionally takes the lives of transwomen of color, who live at the intersection of oppression between racism and transphobia.

Our grief surrounding these tragic deaths is felt very deeply, but our gathering is more than a remembrance or memorial. We gather in mutual support of one another, to uplift one another, to let everyone know that we are here and we matter!

We celebrate that we are a resilient people and community, we care for one another, we advocate for one another, we continue to rise up, to live our lives in dignity and truth, and to bring about change in our society.

Our gathering is an act of defiance, a standing up and calling out for justice, especially for those among us who are most vulnerable. Our presence is a way to assert our dignity. Our presence is an act of hope. Our presence gives voice to our commitment to live each day with courage, strength and determination, knowing full well who we are and that we matter!

So for all trans* people who are subjected to verbal and physical harassment and emotional and physical violence: We matter!

For all trans* people who are continually being misnamed and referred to by inappropriate pronouns just because some cisgender people refuse to recognize their identities or fail to care enough to work on getting it right.

For my trans* friend who stopped by a shop the other day for her morning coffee and asked the barista to repeat something that the barista had said. The barista turned to her coworker and shouted, "I don't think it can hear," whereupon her coworker asked my friend in a derisive tone, "Are you a dude or a chick?"

For my trans* friend who suffered the trauma and humiliation of having her genitalia groped by a woman while shopping in a store because the woman wanted to know what was between my friend's legs.

For my trans* friend who was "unwelcomed" by her pastor and was left without a faith community to love and support her.

For all trans* people who plan their days around where they can access safe restrooms and are harassed and denied entry to a restroom appropriate to their gender identity when they simply have to pee, or who suffer kidney infections because they continually have to hold it.

For my young trans* friend who, prior to his transition, was an invisible young woman of color but who now feels that he has a target on his back as a young transman of color.

For my young trans* friend whose family disowned them when they came out.

For all trans* people who are refused medical care because their complex bodies do not match what some health care workers deem to be proper bodies.

For all trans* people who can't access the health care they require because insurance policies refuse to cover the care they need.

For my trans* friend who nearly died from repeated and failed phalloplasties.

For all the trans* people who have lost their jobs and can't find work because simply because they are trans* and the laws of many states and the laws of the federal government do not protect them.

For all the trans* people who are living in poverty or are homeless because their families have rejected them, or because they can't find work or lost their jobs when they came out.

For all the trans* people who have turned to sex work because they have no other way to survive.

For all trans* people who are treated badly by some members of the law enforcement system because they are looked upon as freaks.

For all the trans* people who are incarcerated and housed in cell blocks inappropriate to their gender identity, where they are especially vulnerable to violence.

For the 41 percent of trans* people in the United States who have attempted suicide.

For the young gender-nonconforming person who was set on fire on a bus in Oakland, California because they were perceived as male but were wearing a skirt.

And for all those trans* people who have been murdered, named and unnamed, we mourn your deaths and celebrate your lives. You matter! We all matter!

Note: trans*, using the asterisk, is an umbrella term that includes transgender and gender non-conforming people.

An Interview with Jim Siefkes

[Three questions were put to the Reverend Jim Siefkes, instigator of the process in 1974 that created ReconcilingWorks (Formally known as Lutherans Concerned for Gay People).]

“What’s your overall reaction looking backwards at the June 1974 beginning and the ministry ReconcilingWorks has turned out to be?”

I still believe in miracles.  I am ever so grateful…

  • For the faith and commitment of the LGBT community and their straight allies
  • For the polity of the former ALC which comprised one synod with boards, commissions, divisions, and offices which had considerable autonomy and budgets to do the work assigned by a common constitution and bylaws, accountable to the whole church for planning and execution.
  • For the Division of Social Service (DSS) and its director, the late Paul Boe, and the succeeding Division for Service and Mission in America (DSMA) and its director, the late John Houck -- the foresight within these divisions to establish aims and guidelines such as “to find those areas of society not being ministered to,” and “we will continue to encourage and assist others, as well, in efforts to serve the very poor, those preferring unconventional life styles, the uncomfortable and oppressed, those variously handicapped and avowedly non religious.”
  • For having been called in 1969 to initiate and actuate such goals and aims within the ALC
  • For the partnership with the University of Minnesota medical school’s Program in Human Sexuality, also now forty years old. It was started by an original and several succeeding donations from the ALC.  This partnership made possible a training ground for ALC social service agency personnel, seminary students, and mutual support between two important institutions that had some societal permission-granting authority for discussing sexual concerns.
  • That what was happening in the world at that time changed the church and was cause for the church to take a chance, to engage in a venture with considerable risk that it could result in significant change.  Ecumenically speaking the ALC could hardly be described as a leader in these matters, but it found a way to participate at that time, be engaged, and follow along.  A plumb line had dropped that sharply divided opinions. Nonetheless, the ALC found ways to stay in control.

I have a deep sense of personal satisfaction in how the June 1974 event has evolved over these 40 years.  I am proud to have played a role in the beginnings, and still have the ability to continue to stand alongside the reconciling process and its continuing evolution.

It was for me simply doing what seemed a logical, good, and right thing to do, not without a good measure of naiveté.  It was an entrée into an arena involving human sexuality.  It should be said that there had been worthy attempts, such as position statements, studies, reactions, et cetera, to open discussions about the body between the neck and the ankles. Such were an acknowledgement of the “most needy at the gate,” and a desire to do something about them -- those victimized by the church’s centuries-old anxiety about our physical bodies, women, those faced by the choices of abortion, those involved in sex education, and those with various sexual identities.

As I look back after 60+ years in the ministry and having been involved in about 40 justice-related ministries, the initiating event in June 1974 stands out as one of the most significant among them.

“Did what resulted from that June meeting please those in the ALC who had caused you to initiate this dialogue, was it what they had in mind?”

Who or what caused me to initiate that discussion?  Simply put, it was circumstance, coupled with the hope and the desire of the board of the ALC Division of Social Service to reach out beyond the then current original services of social service agencies, adoption, and services to the aging through care agencies.  Well and good!!  This was taking place in the context of the roiling issues of the 1960s and 1970s, when there were resources apparently available in what at that time were about 5000 ALC congregations.  I was called and assigned to be housed in the DSS, with an advisory group made up of several related central church office executives, the American missions, the youth department, Lutheran Church Men, and the Commission on Research and Social Action.  It was risky to call a person to the task they wanted done, and it was risky to accept the challenge.  The first advisory group meeting was disappointing for some.  It was clear to me that the expectation was to meet the multiplicity of social concerns by me writing a social concerns manual.  I was quick to say, “I am not the person capable to do this job, and I don’t know anyone who is.” A burden of responsibility had been placed on my shoulders.  Now what?

I had been conducting community action events called “Matrix” in the nine western states that I served as a regional stewardship director (Matrix from “mater,” Latin for “mother,” connoting a birthing place, a womb, a place where new life could be conceived where there had been none).  These were aimed at immersions into primary experiences in the issues of the day for pastors, their spouses, and selected laity.

First conducted in San Francisco, Portland, Los Angeles, Phoenix, and Denver, some lasted for as much as five days. Each Matrix was a seeding process that would initiate another venue – eventually reaching places like rural Strawberry Point, Iowa; Miami; Washington, DC; Milwaukee; Minneapolis; and other venues. A portion of each Matrix event included members of the LGBT community.  Up front at these events was the question about a definition of and strategy for carrying out the mission of the church.

More simply put, it was trust coupled with risk and circumstance that caused me to initiate the June 1974 dialogue.  Those who supported the risk were pleased, maybe even surprised, as things began to unfold.  As mentioned above, that did not necessarily mean smooth sailing, there being a variety of ways the church used to “hedge its bet,” to stay in control.  Regardless, the task at hand was to make a switch from the church’s usual REACTION, a plethora of very fine studies, books, analyses, reports,  and talk that enabled issues to be labeled, boxed, put on the shelf and considered dealt with.  The switch was from REACTION to ACTION. The ALC was not ready for action in the lives of those victimized by the past anxieties of the church.

The “needy at the gate” were still there as before, but now their voices were being raised. The war in Viet Nam heated up; there were no helps or counsel available regarding conscientious objection.  There were no guidelines or ways to minister to conscience-ridden young men (and their families) who were in exile in Canada as deserters and dodgers of the military.  And, what about Lutheran LGBT folks and their families?  What about the variously handicapped?  What about the increased flow of persons into prisons?  What about kids who left home for communes?  Ways to combat the uses of drugs et cetera?

However, there were a significant number of people within the ALC on national staff, district staffs, in campus ministry, in inner city and rural congregations, certain pastors, and members of minority groups who were living with these issues. For this growing number of people, the ALC was no longer experienced as “a mighty fortress.”  For these folks, being in the ALC was more like wading into the tide of the day, the liminal space between sea and shore.  There they were experiencing the tug and the pull, the tides and currents of life and its needs, and shifting sands. There was dawning a sense of the right and legitimacy of being there.  For a growing number, this was a location between two very different environments that were being stretched to connect. Loyalty, for some in this context, meant defending the status quo.  For others, to work just to keep the ship afloat.  And for yet others, to work for change.

“What’s your reaction to the huge shift in public opinion concerning LGBT people and the acceptance of their relationships, particularly within the context of the church?”

I have increasingly come to be a proponent of such things as: serendipity – synchronicity – providence — transcendence- and kairos.  All these mean to me that I have a sense and a trust that “something is going on,” and no one person or institution is in charge of it.  If I had to name it, I would ascribe it to the activity of God through the Spirit.  There is a time for all things, and there was and it still is a very special KAIROS time, a time when the order of reality shifts, things come together, and the impossible happens as naturally as the changing of seasons. Into the milieu of the 1960s and 70s came the voices of the oppressed. In the midst of that there was a disquieting sense that the “normal attitudes” were wrong.  To speak truth to power was and still is risky business.

This called forth psychologist Rollo Mays’ list of courages: physical courage, the moral courage to right wrongs, the social courage to risk relationship and intimacy and, through that process, to change, and the creative courage to critique oppressive institutions in anticipation of creating something new.

My reaction is that it is not sufficient only to get out of the way of a just change – better it is find a way to be a participant in the action.  So it began, that the power of the transcendent, that something bigger than we are, opened the hearts, minds, and words of leaders in society, from the president and the famous to citizens everywhere.  As far as the Lutheran church and LGBT issue is concerned it was by one vote in more than a thousand people at a national meeting in 2009 (Lutherans seem to like permissions from authority) that gave permission to fully accept and welcome LGBT people in every aspect of its life. Subsequent votes at that ELCA national meeting removed barriers to that welcome. The struggle is not over, but I celebrate that the cause is on a roll and it’s important to keep on keeping on.

Veterans Day

salute veterans-day-14

Veterans Day, a relic of the "war to end all wars" that didn't, can be like Labor Day, filled with activities other than reflection on those honored by the day.

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Transgender Day of Remembrance Resources

TDOR 14

 

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November has been designated as "Transgender Awareness Month" and we at ReconcilingWorks will celebrate trans* lives and trans* communities by presenting a series of informative posts, useful resources, and personal stories written by trans* people of faith. The most important day of this month for trans* people and their allies is the International Transgender Day of Remembrance.

Transgender Day of Remembrance [TDOR] is commemorated on November 20 each year and is the single most important observance on the calendar for trans* people and their communities. On this day we memorialize and celebrate the lives of all trans* people, known and unknown, who have been murdered out of fear and hate during the past year. TDOR is also an act of resistance, a way to restore dignity, a vigil for justice, an opportunity for trans* people to rise up from isolation and to seek support, and an opportunity to recommit to live our lives with determination and hope.

Links

We Matter! 2014 Trans* Day of Remembrance

10 Transgender Christians Share Their Journey Stories

Uncontainable Joy - A TransLutheran Story

10 things every Lutheran should know about Transgender Day of Remembrance

Ensuring Decent Care For Transgender People

HRC Gender Identity and our Faith Communities

PFLAG Welcoming Our Trans Family and Friends

NCTE Teaching Transgender (PDF)

NCTE Opening the Door to the Inclusion of Transgender People (PDF)

  • See p. 62 for communities of faith

NCTE Immigration and Transgender (PDF)

Resources

http://www.transequality.org/

http://www.transfaithonline.org/

One way your congregation can honor transgender people during this November's Transgender Awareness month is to sponsor a memorial service around the time of the Transgender Day of Remembrance (November 20).  Here is a toolkit that can be used for planning purposes.  Even if your congregation doesn't sponsor a service, prayers advocating an end to violence, for those trans people who have been murdered, and for the living can be offered during your regular worship services.  Sample services and prayers are included in the toolkit.

Transfaith :: Toolkit for Transgender Day of Remembrance 

TDOR Toolkit

Books

I am Jazz

10,000 Dresses

Trans Bodies, Trans Selves

The Gender Book

This Book is for Parents of Gay Kids

Transgendering Faith: Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality

Crossing Paths: Where Transgender and Religion Meet

10 things every Lutheran should know about Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender day remembrance TDOR 2014

Transgender Day of Remembrance [TDOR] is commemorated on November 20 each year and is the single most important observance on the calendar for trans* people and their communities. On this day we memorialize and celebrate the lives of all trans* people, known and unknown, who have been murdered out of fear and hate during the past year.  TDOR is also an act of resistance, a way to restore dignity, a vigil for justice, an opportunity for trans* people to rise up from isolation and to seek support, and an opportunity to recommit to live our lives with determination and hope.

Here are 10 things that we think every Lutheran should know about the Transgender Day of Remembrance10 things every Lutheran should know about Transgender Day of Remembrance

10 things every Lutheran should know about Transgender Day of Remembrance (2)

Transgender day remembrance TDOR 2014

Transgender Day of Remembrance [TDOR] is commemorated on November 20 each year and is the single most important observance on the calendar for trans* people and their communities. On this day we memorialize and celebrate the lives of all trans* people, known and unknown, who have been murdered out of fear and hate during the past year.  TDOR is also an act of resistance, a way to restore dignity, a vigil for justice, an opportunity for trans* people to rise up from isolation and to seek support, and an opportunity to recommit to live our lives with determination and hope.

Here are 10 things that we think every Lutheran should know about the Transgender Day of Remembrance10 things every Lutheran should know about Transgender Day of Remembrance (2)

Responses Requested for ELCA Social Message on Gender-Based Violence

ELCA GBV ipadThe ELCA has been working for the past year on developing a “Social Message on Gender-Based Violence” (GBV). JamieAnn Meyers and Nicole Garcia, board members of ReconcilingWorks: Lutherans for Full Participation, participated as consultants on this project, which is headed by Mary Streufert, Ph.D. Mary is the Director of Justice for Women in the Office of the Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA).

A draft of the document is ready for review by the public and can be read at 

www.elca.org/Faith/Faith-and-Society/Current-Social-Writing-Projects/Gender-Violence

The preface of the draft document states that “Gender-based violence has been a largely ignored epidemic in human society. This message [if adopted by the Church Council of the ELCA] seeks to bring the epidemic into the open for the sake of survivors and perpetrators, for education and deliberation, and as a call to action.”

Feedback on the draft of this significant Social Message is especially requested from members of ReconcilingWorks. The response form can be downloaded from or filled out online at

www.elca.org/socialmessages

Please submit your response at any time prior to November 26, 2014.

The document contains ten major sections. You may wish to focus on any one or more of these sections in your response, depending on your interest and your knowledge base. The sections include a Pastoral Message, Definitions of GBV, Context and Sources of GBV, Confession of Sin, Religious Contributions to the Problems Social Forces, Confession of Faith, The ELCA’s Calling, the ELCA’s Social Witness, and Commitments to a New Beginning.

Thank you for your faithful witness to the Gospel.

Yours in Christ,

JamieAnn Meyers, Ph.D.
Board Member, ReconcilingWorks

40 Years of Re-Forming the Church

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 theses on the local church house door, calling for spiritual renewal and ecclesiastical reform. Luther’s words touched off a worldwide movement that turned the Church inside out, revealing the central core of the Gospel message of God’s unconditional love and acceptance of all in Jesus Christ.

For 40 years ReconcilingWorks has and continues to work for the full inclusion of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people in the life of the church and society. The work of many heroes and saints—that is, of members, volunteers, donors and supporters just like you—have helped create safe places for LGBT people and families to worship and thrive. 

But our work is not done. ReconcilingWorks knows both church and world remain in great need of reformation and renewal. We know it is critical for welcome to be a lived experience for all, not just a statement attached to the church door.

As we mark 40 years of reform and renewal, will you celebrate ReconcilingWorks by supporting the work we still have ahead of all of us? Make a financial gift of $40 in commemoration of our 40th anniversary or of an amount meaningful to you.

Please help us keep turning the world inside out, honoring the wisdom and courage of Martin Luther and all the saints who have come before us. DONATE NOW.

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Whiteboard Reformation: Our Lutheran Story

Whiteboard Reformation

The heart of the Reformation, "the doctrine by which the church stands or falls," as Luther wrote, is "justification by faith." To people dreadfully anxious about their salvation, Luther declared that our behavior--whether good or bad--had nothing to do with fixing our relationship with God. God fixes the relationship ... as a gift. Being true to the Lutheran confessions means using the principle of "justification by faith" to ask afresh in every era, "what shall we say now in order to be life-giving today?"  

Four hundred and ninety-six years later, ReconcilingWorks is asking YOU that same question. What will we say, what will we do, that’s life-giving for LGBT people? 

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Responses Requested for ELCA Questionnaire on Ministry to LGBT Couples

Lauren (left), Michelle, and their son Luke are members of Edina Community Lutheran Church in Edina, Minnesota.What resources would be most effective in helping your congregation respond to the needs of LGBT couples and their families? ELCA survey quote 02ELCA survey quote 03

 

The ELCA’s Working Group for Ministry to and with Same Gender Couples and their Families needs your input. As part of the Working Group’s mission to encourage conversations and resource sharing throughout the church about ministering to and with LGBT couples and their families, the Working Group has developed a questionnaire to discover what conversations may be happening in your faith community and what resources might be needed to aid in ministry and pastoral care.

ELCA Survey

The questionnaire provides an opportunity for open-ended responses. In addition to the survey's questions, here are some additional things to consider as you take the survey:

· Would it be helpful for your faith community to have a wedding liturgy provided by the ELCA that is appropriate for all couples, including LGBT couples?

· What kinds of resources would be most effective in helping your congregation respond to the needs of LGBT couples and their families? 

· How can the ELCA equip your congregation to advocate for equal protection under the law and non-discrimination for same-gender couples and their families?

We know there is a great need for LGBT couples and families to feel welcome in the church and be accepted as they are. Policy changes in the ELCA allowing for the greater inclusion of all God’s people have encouraged many to return to their churches where once they had felt shunned, to re-engage where once they had felt left out—and, perhaps, to join a faith community for the first time. With marriage for same-gender couples becoming recognized by more and more state governments, many LGBT couples are approaching their pastors and congregations, asking to be married in the church. 

Please share your thoughts with the Working Group here: https://surveys.elca.org/scripts/rws5.pl?FORM=samegen and then share the questionnaire link with as many other members of the ELCA as you can—with your congregation, your synod newsletter, your Facebook page, etc. . . .  Please respond before November 30, 2014.

To learn more about the working group, please click here (http://www.elca.org/News-and-Events/blogs/NewsBlog/56).

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